Choosing Oak for a Cerused (Limed) Finish

Advice on choosing wood with the appropriate grain for an attractive look when given a ceruse finish. November 14, 2014

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
I'm making some book cases out of 2"x2" oak with 3/4" shelving. I need to use a cerused/limed effect to mark out the grain but without adding any color first. Which oak type would you use - red or white?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor I:
Either one. Some red oak can really have a wild grain, and some red oaks can really be pink. Red oak will usually have bigger pores and hold more color. The choice is yours based on what your supplier has. There are something over 500 oaks, but only sold in those two categories.

From Contributor R:
Rift white oak works well. Nice straight grain.

From contributor T:
Red and white oak will both take a ceruse or liming wax well. If you want a tighter grain with less color go with white oak. Quarter sawn, rift or even plain sawn will give a desirable look. We use it often in this finish schedule. Plain will take a heavier amount of cerusing or wax without too much wire brushing. This is especially true on veneer core ply if you are using it as your substrate. If you are trying to keep the wood as light in color as possible you can either apply a thin cheruse directly to the substrate first or you can lay down a wash coat first - sealer or shellac.

From contributor A:
Cerused quarter-cut oak is a more traditional look and cerused rift-cut is a more contemporary look. In my own humble opinion ceruse finishes don't look so hot on plain sawn oak. However, no piece of oak is rift-cut on all four sides. Contributor T's idea of putting some color on the raw wood is smart because it will at least minimize the color variation a little bit.

From contributor M:
Be sure to bust the grain open with a wire brush. Most places we consulted said to use a brass bristle brush, but honestly we found the most striking result with a good stiff steel bristle brush, worked with a good bit of elbow grease in the direction of the grain. This even works on veneers and veneered plywood as long as you use a little common sense in how long you scrub the wood. I was fairly brutal with it (as much as I was willing to wear out my own shoulders over the course of a few daysí work) and never once had a problem with tearing it up/burning through to the substrate. Do the final sanding with 180, but not overly aggressive. Blow out the grain really well with the air chuck before spraying the sealer.

From the original questioner:
To contributor M: I was going to take the red oak, sand it to 180 grit, wire brush it with the grain. Apply Briwax liming wax, wipe off excess and then finish the piece with Briwax clear wax. I'd have loved to spray it with a clear polyurethane varnish but I'm not sure how it might react to the liming wax. Also I was wondering if a shellac wash coat might be a good idea before the liming wax.

From contributor M:
Since I am a production-only guy I'd never use wax for liming. Perhaps for artwork that won't actually be used or will be a display item, but not for built-ins or other cabinets that will see much use. I can't see a wax finish lasting all that long. I don't know the sort of cerused look you are going for, but I suggest you contact your finish representative for a powder glaze. Typically, you'll open the grain with the brush, add whatever colorant you want to the wood, seal it, gently sand it, apply the powder glaze to whatever final look you are looking for, and topcoat with a coat or two of clear. The powder glaze will allow you to spray with catalyzed finishes, which are going to be far more durable than a wax finish.

From the original questioner:
One last question: Would you recommend flat sawn, rift, or quarter sawn white oak for liming? It'll be made out if 2"x2" stock.

From Contributor R:
Virtually any wood can be limed. It depends on the look youíre after. The rift oak has a very straight grain and the pores are quite close and straight as well. The way oak is quartered it will have more pronounced rays and the pores a bit more open and wider. This will produce a wilder more scattered look than the rift will.

From contributor M:
The rift cut can look a lot like rain in its pattern - straight lines, dots, dashes. Itís kind of neat if that's the look the customer wants. If they prefer the arches and sine waves you see on plain-sawn oak, then obviously you'll want plain sawn or similar. I have not limed much quarter sawn so I can't say what that looks like.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I think the reason rift sawn isn't popular for liming is because the grain pattern is not as exciting (mostly straight). Thinking it through, if I ask for straight cut and I'm ripping it to get my 1.5" x 1.5" sections, two faces will be plain sawn and the other two will be quarter sawn faces however I go about it. I just received my bronze liming brush in the mail today so I'll see if I get a better finish than I've already tried with my steel wire brush.